Weekend in Paris

As I write, I am speeding along the French countryside in the TGV. I am following my progress on Google Maps on my cell phone; any of my friends on Google Latitude can see where I am in real-time too.

During this 4-hour train ride I have spent my time napping and reflecting on the lift conference. I was very, very pleased with lift for a few reasons. First of all, from Poken’s perspective, our new conference badge prototype worked very well. There were a few small glitches and there are clearly some usability issues to address before we release a final version but the product was functional and we had three days of testing with great users who provided very insightful feedback. Fortunately, many of the suggestions we received are features/fixes we are already working on.

One of my objectives in taking the position with Poken—and even in coming to IMD in the first place—was to expand my global network. Lift showed me that I was definitely making baby steps in this direction.  I bumped into several venture capitalists and business owners I had met at previous conferences. I met in person for the first time several people who had corresponded with me online about Poken. I bumped into two sets of entrepreneurs whom I knew from the IMD Startup Competition/MBA Projects. I had lunch with a Google product manager whom I had interviewed with back in October. And, of course, I pokened with plenty of new contacts.

Amazingly, I found that my Rice network extended to lift as well. One of the staff members had worked in Teach for America in Houston, where she knew Melissa, the legendary Baker president during my term as Lovett president. I was delighted to find such a connection halfway around the big earth/small world!

My wingman from Houston is on a project in Paris so I am heading up to spend the weekend with him. We will, no doubt, rock Paris like le hurricane! But it is hard to talk of le Perfect Storm when the weather is beautiful and not even that cold. Could spring really be in the air? Or am I just being lulled into a false sense of security before more snow? On verra!


My Underwear Is Inside Out

The last time I shared a hotel room with a friend/colleague was in Kenya last summer. My IMD classmate, Dongao, shared both a room AND a tent with me, in fact. Before that I shared a room in Orlando with one of my mom's NASM coworkers at a Space Shuttle launch. Going even further back I have fond memories of sharing a room with my fellow Rice CS alum/entrepreneur/R7 Solutions employee at a GIS conference in San Diego. We were both working day and night to finish our presentations while also trying to finalize version 1.0 of our first software product at the same time. Somehow we still found time to see Terminator 3. Going even further back, I shared a room (albeit in a dorm not in a hotel) in college with an All-American Baseball Pitcher who would throw pillows at me if I snored at night--97 mph, OUCH!

Yesterday I spent all day at lift, where Poken debuted a version of our product that is integrated into a conference badge. Instead of exchanging business cards or writing down contact info, attendees can connect with each other online just by touching their badges together--by pokening! The conference badge poken is, of course, compatible with the original poken and I was pleased to see that several lift attendees showed up with their own pokens in hand and ready to network. Although it's in French, you can see the new Poken conference badge starting at 19'40" here.

Several other Poken reps and I spent the day providing support to the conference users: helping them create their Poken accounts, answering questions, and just mingling/networking. Afterwards our Founder/CEO, Stephane, and I were invited to dine with the Sandbox Network at La Broche. The event was well organized and featured very stimulating conversation about the future of identity (along with good food and wine, of course!) with passionate, informed participants.

As we wrapped up, it was nearing midnight. Stephane and I contemplated the prospect of driving an hour back to Lausanne only to turn right back around in a few hours. Instead we agreed just to crash in Geneva for the night. We found a hotel near the restaurant that had a room available with two beds so we took it. The hotel was sketchtastic but we were so tired that we hardly noticed. When I protested that we had no change of clothes, Stephane suggested that underwear could be turned inside out to extend its usage. And so, on a night when we hit a sales milestone that would have had most companies breaking out the champagne, we instead crashed at a sketchy hotel in Geneva. Lol, I do love the startup lifestyle!

Now we are wrapping up our second day of lift and man, I am wiped. Many thanks go out to our CIO, Dave, who brought us not only fresh t-shirts but also tooth brushes, tooth paste, and deodorant this morning. I was interviewed a few times today so hopefully I wasn't too disheveled! Having shared a hotel room with Stephane, I now feel somehow like a tighter bond with the company has been formed. And hey, at least Stephane doesn't have a 97-mph fastball!


Can't Sleep

Even if there weren't a million things on my plate right now, I would still have a hard time falling asleep. There is just so much excitement going on at Poken right now that my mind is flooded with energizing thoughts each time I close my eyes. Some of them recount what happened today, some of them anticipate what will happen tomorrow, and some of them are completely new. The new ones especially motivate me to shirk off sleep to get up and document them in case I forget tomorrow.

This is a big week for us: another user interface update, major work on our API, and participation at LIFT,  where we'll be unveiling a little surprise. ;-) Oh well, if I can't sleep, I can at least get some work done. After all, tomorrow is a busy day--and it kicks off in just a few hours!


Sunny Saturday

I was woken this morning by a call from a number I didn't recognize. It turned out to be two Dutch entrepreneurs. They had driven all night from Amsterdam and were ready to take delivery of the 1080 pokens they had ordered. As I live just around the corner from the office, it falls on me to service such requests. Bleary-eyed, I threw on some clothes and met them at the office. They were thrilled to receive their first order of the tiny devices that are all over the media in their country and I wish them the best of luck for their new webshop--and for their 10-hour drive back!


Last night was a lot of fun. We've been pushing the team hard so we decided to have a small dinner at Poco Loco, a local "swiss-mex" restaurant whose owner is a poken fan. The food was good (although watching the swiss eat fajitas with a fork and knife was...entertaining!), the guava margaritas were cold, and the company was great.


We were surprised when, at the end of the meal, the lights went out and a cake was brought to our table. it was a poken cake! Everyone sang happy birthday as it's been about a year since Stephane really started pushing it forward in earnest.


A quick note about the music I've been listening to recently. I'm in the j's right now and I just finished Jethro Tull. Wow, was I ever surprised by the quality of their works! I expected Aqualung, Locomotive Breath, Bungle in the Jungle, and then a bunch of forgettable, flute-filled songs that I would never listen to again. Instead, in the Anniversary Collection, I found two very full discs of compelling, melodic, lyrical songs that enticed me to relisten several times.

Now it is a gorgeous (albeit still very cold) Saturday so I am off to . . . work on Poken! :-) Congrats to the IMD MBA class of 2009 for finishing their first Integrative Exercise today. Just remember, that which does not kill us . . . 


Poken Is Hiring!

Poken struggling to keep up with 1,000+% growth and we are augmenting our product development team. Below is a summary of the position for which we're hiring but, in a nutshell, we're looking for really, really, really, really, really ridiculously awesome Java developers. Ideally you should be already in Europe but, even if not, let me know if you're interested as we may have some flexibility for the right candidates.

The full post is at here:

Java Developer, Lausanne

Passionate Java developer/engineer who can execute quickly on consumer facing N-tier Java/AJAX web apps with a web 2.0 mindset (agile development, mashup, social networks).
Knowledge of JSF, MySql, j2ee, junit, linux, eclipse is an advantage.
Poken (http://www.doyoupoken.com) is one of Europe's fastest growing start-ups. It employs 10 people and is based in the centre of Lausanne.

Required profile :
  • Swiss nationality, Swiss C, B, G working permit, OR EC European nationality
  • passion for developing robust consumer Internet applications
  • excelent Java and AJAX skills
  • fluent English
  • 2009-02-18

    Tolkien and Workouts

    I finished The Silmarillion last week and have moved on to The Hobbit. I really love the simple, fantastic Hobbit narrative. It was the hook that bought me into the rest of Tolkien's works (Thanks again, Lee and Sam!), which I have read and reread many times over. In many ways this is similar to how I entered the Harry Potter world--through the simple, fantastic narrative of The Philosopher's Stone. Then I was hooked all the way through the much darker, much more epic tales of the rest of the series.

    This evening I took a break from my normal routine (office => gym => back to work at home) and met some IMD Class of 2009 students to coach them in strength training. They seem eager to learn and to balance their intense workload with fitness so I will be glad to help them out--with as much time as I can spare! After all, the MBAT is coming up and they need to be training!

    Today I also purchased a DLP projector. As I'm trying to stay light on furniture, my plan is not to have a TV and just to use the projector on my living room wall with my computer as a source. The first media I'll watch will be the four Rambo movies--chronologically, of course--since I haven't seen the most recent yet.


    First Week In New Apartment

    Sorry for my absence but last week kept me very busy! On top of many long hours at the office (due to our release of a new website look and feel), I also moved into my new apartment and have been dealing with all of the time sucks that come with that. Pics of the new place--such as it is--are in my facebook album.

    Friday night I met up with our new Marketing Director at Bavaria to discuss our product strategy. We ate sausage and drank Berlinoise ("glass of framboise + bottle of hefeweissbier == good!")--I felt very Bavarian!

    Saturday night was our IMD MBA Class of 2008 reunion dinner at the Moevenpick hotel. Many of us stayed in Switzerland so we had over 30 attendees--not bad for a class of 89!

    On another note, I am loving Google Latitude. It's like Twitter but coupled with locational information. It uses your phone's GPS (or you can update it manually) to publish your location to your friends. Obviously privacy is a concern so you can hide your location from one, some, or all of your friends at any time. It uses some mobile phone data bandwidth but the possibilities of knowing when you are unexpectedly close to a friend of yours is more than worth it. On Monday, for example, I bumped into an IMD classmate as we got off the train in Geneva. Had we been using Latitude, we would have known that we were on the same train and enjoyed the ride together. Cool stuff!


    Exciting times!

    After a full weekend of Poken work, yesterday I moved into my new apartment! Well, sort of. I have a bed, a sheet, a blanket (Thanks, Lee and Sam!), a pillow, a shower curtain, and a water filter. Oh right, and lots of bags! I thought I would be able to leech wireless Internet access from a local cafe, but no such luck. Until my DSL is installed I suppose I'll be spending late nights at the office.

    Last night I tried out the Thai restaurant next door to my new apartment. I was disappointed to learn that they don't serve Pad Thai. What kind of Thai restaurant doesn't serve Pad Thai?? Oh well, at least it's open late 7 days/week--very rare, here in Lausanne!

    Our software team is killing itself with this new interface right now. The developers are getting sick, not seeing their families, and living on caffeine. We're taking a much-needed break right now to play darts--at which I am terrible--then it's back to work. But, for a few minutes at least, we're having a good time. :-)

    P.S. We need a ping pong table!


    A Country Kinda Week

    I've moved through "G" and "H" in my music collection. This has brought with it a high concentration of country music: Garth Brooks, George Strait, Hank Williams, Sr., and Hank Williams, Jr. Although I'm not a HUGE fan of country, it reminds me of Texas and that is comforting. 

    I'm onto Huey Lewis and the News now. Their early work was a little too new wave for my tastes, but when Sports came out in '83,I think they really came into their own, commercially and artistically. The whole album has a clear, crisp sound, and a new sheen of consummate professionalism that really gives the songs a big boost. He's been compared to Elvis Costello, but I think Huey has a far more bitter, cynical sense of humour. In '87, Huey released Fore, their most accomplished album. I think their undisputed masterpiece is "Hip to be Square", a song so catchy, most people probably don't listen to the lyrics. But they should, because it's not just about the pleasures of conformity, and the importance of trends, it's also a personal statement about the band itself.

    The Poken team is working all weekend on a new user interface. We owe our users something prettier, cleaner, and more intuitive than what they are using now. It's a major undertaking and we are behind schedule, but by God they shall have it!


    Return to the IMD Bubble

    Today I had lunch back at IMD. Despite the fact that I was a student there are recently as two months ago, it seems very, very far removed. On campus I now feel like one of the myriad visitors that shuffles through each day. Oh well, at least there are still many smiling faces I know. :-)

    I had lunch with three classmates--Ian, Mario, Joonwon--and Joonwon's wife; it was a fun mini-reunion. It was fun to catch up with all of them and hear about how their new jobs are going--especially Ian's as he now works directly for IMD! The food was, of course, delicious and plentiful--oh how I miss the IMD lunches. The best part may have been the ping pong, though. Apparently this year's class doesn't really play ping pong . . . wth?

    In other exciting news, I took a break from my Silmarillion reading tonight to read up on Agile Development methodologies. Our team is already employing many of them--short iterations, frequent releases, ongoing communication, open layout, joint design sessions, etc--but I uncovered some other concepts that might be useful for us. I've always been vehemently against accepting a single development model as dogma. Every team, product, market, technology, and set of stakeholders has its own unique requirements and it is crucial to address them, not just blindly apply some model. However, in Poken's case the rapid growth of the market, small size of the team, and constant evolution of product requirements all go nicely with a very agile process.


    Chance Encounters at the Gym

    During my first week at my gym here in Lausanne I ran into an IMD staff member. Tonight I bumped into not only one of my professors from last year but a member of the Class of 2009 as well. Two pleasant surprises to distract me from my cardio and The Silmarillion audio book! :-) I'm not sure if this is what IMD means when it advertises the power of its network, but I'll take it!


    As many of you know, I love facebook. I spend a lot of time on it, post my pictures there, re-post my blog there, etc. In fact, the other members of the Poken team are pretty big facebook fans too, as exhibited by this video that our Chief Architect posted of me doing one-armed push-ups (the day after working out my chest, OUCH!) today.

    Yesterday, however, my relationship with facebook soured a little. We received notification from our lawyers that facebook was opposing our "Poken" trademark. Apparently they have trademarked the term "poke," which seems awfully generic/untrademarkable to me. While I am honored that the facebook Goliath would even take notice of our organization, I'm disappointed that this is our first contact from them. In that we hope to bring them and their users a lot of value by being their extension into the real world, I hope they are open to engaging us instead of just opposing us.

    As with all things, we shall see. In the meantime we will stay focused on building a better product to better serve our users (who are now hitting our site 40,000 times/month).


    First Real Snow of 2009

    Many of you may remember my blog entry last year about the surprise of snow falling one morning. That came on March 5th but this year I woke up to snow much earlier: this morning! Check out the pics in my facebook album.

    I spent Saturday in Basel at Startup Camp, a get-together for Switzerland's entrepreneurs. The Poken team showed up en masse and we really had a great time. What's more, fully 2/3 of the attendees bought Pokens and used them to connect with people, exchange contact details, etc. While we've known for a while that Poken can be very useful at a conference, this meeting was particularly suited for it because so many of the members use new social media such as twitter, blogging, social networks, etc. So the standard details included on a business card (name, email, phone, address) were less relevant than all of the new media identity information included on the Poken digital card. Cool! We were glad to faciliate people connecting.